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Who is really accountable?

If you have not realized it, the English language has lots of little nuances, and many times words are interchanged that really don’t mean the same thing. In talking with business leaders, one point of confusion typically lies in the words accountable, responsible, and authority. When looking at who “owns” a process, these terms mean completely different things.

Accountability

I always encourage leaders that every business process and major financial number should have somebody on the team accountable for that number. So what does this really mean? Literally, it means somebody that has the skill or ability to report on an event or experience. This individual is not in charge of the process, and they are not expected to drive the process – they are responsible for monitoring the process and alerting the right people if the process gets off track.

Is Anybody Accountable

Side note – ever heard the phrase when everybody is accountable, then nobody is? There should always be one person that is accountable for a process or number. If multiple people are accountable, then Mary thinks John is taking care of it, but John thinks Sam is, and you get the picture – things fall in the crack, and issues arise.

Responsibility

So, who does the accountable individual report issues too? The people that are responsible for the process. The responsible parties are those whose job it is to follow and execute the process, so if something is off track, they need to be responsible for addressing it and keeping the process on track in the first place.

Authority

But, do they have the authority? Authority is typically connected with leadership. The company leaders have the authority to make decisions. The latitude by which that authority is granted may differ depending upon the seniority. For example, if you look at Ritz-Carlton’s model, they grant the authority to their front-line team to spend up to $2,000 to make an issue right for a customer. Higher-level managers have a $5,000 limit and so on. So, authority does not always reside only at the top.

All three levels are necessary – one person is accountable, and one or more people are responsible and with authority to address issues and move the process forward.